Dealing with pet loss is never easy, but Denise Curtin explains why it's so important to take time to grieve.
Three years ago I lost my puppy, Max. I remember the day the news broke so clearly. I was standing in Heuston Station, about to board a train home for my college graduation when I got the text “Denise, Max has just passed away, heartbroken.” Yet, heartbroken doesn’t even begin to describe how I was feeling in that moment. I burst into tears in the middle of a crowded waiting hall, I wasn’t heartbroken, I was shattered. I just lost a family member.
I know some of you might read the above sentence and think it’s dramatic. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. I once did. I’ve had many dogs throughout my lifetime, some rescues we’ve rehomed, others we’ve lost, but it’s true when they say you connect with certain animals the way you bond better with certain humans. My little Max was a prime example of this. His death broke me and I couldn’t believe that his presence, the unique sort of joy he brought to my family, and the abundance of love he provided would now be missing. It was too overwhelming to imagine.
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I never knew the capacity of trauma you could feel from losing a pet until that moment. How much you could mourn and grieve their loss and how very important it is to do such things. Bereavement counsellor Marty Tousley has written numerous books on dealing with grief, and has special interest in the topic of the human-animal bond.
Explaining that you shouldn’t feel shameful for how you grieve the loss of a pet, Marty says “it is a myth to think that dealing with the death of a pet is easier than dealing with the death of a human loved one. The loss of a beloved pet can play into a person’s deepest spiritual beliefs and most profound emotions.” Continuing, Marty explained that “grief is a natural, spontaneous response to the loss of a significant relationship” and therefore, isn’t limited to human loss. “Grief is indifferent to the species of the one who is lost. Love is love, loss is loss, and pain is pain,” she added.
In April, PR and one third of our favourite sisterhood, Ailbhe Garrihy lost her little dog, Bobby. After three years, Bobby’s sudden passing broke Ailbhe’s heart and she found herself taking time off work to surrender to her feelings and cry it out.
“I had two wooden chest of drawers I wanted to paint white for ages, so I did that for the next few days, it was a good way to keep busy but also, I could bawl my eyes out if I needed to,” Ailbhe explained. “I think about him every hour of the day still. The worst part is going into the kitchen in the morning and not being greeted by him with utter excitement and love – that was my favourite time of the day, always.” To help her grieving process, Ailbhe wrote a poem dedicated to Bobby which she shared on her Instagram. Writing down all the things she wished she had time to tell her dog, Ailbhe found a little bit of healing by putting pen to paper.
“I received literally thousands of messages from people sending their condolences and saying that they understand the feeling and how painful it it is” Ailbhe added. With her little dog at the centre of her universe, she also noted that her feelings are still quite raw and that you cannot underestimate the pain of loosing a pet. “They are literally a family member and a huge part of their owners life. The void we’ve felt since Bobby died and his absence in the house is almost unbearable, and I know it will take a long time to get used to that.” Since loosing her little dog, Ailbhe announced that she’s pregnant with her first child, incredibly exciting news that will hopefully help her throughout her grieving process.
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But sadly, the grieving process does take time. When I lost Max it took me so long to get used to doing everything without his presence and infectious energy. I would be doing OK and then, all of a sudden, I’d remember something about him or for a split second, I’d forget that he’s no longer here and then I’d burst into tears. This happened for a couple of months. Heavy at first and then over time, it gradually lessened and I began to heal. And although I haven’t brought another dog into my life since Max, it has made me appreciate every moment with my other dog Harry that little bit more. I also hope that some day I’ll see myself with another puppy – something I never even thought I’d say, but then again, time is a healer.
Speaking about dealing with the loss of a pet, Pete Wedderburn also known as ‘Pete The Vet’ is a veterinarian from Bray, Co Wicklow. With over 15 years experience, Pete has dealt with animal loss on countless occasions, and knows just how difficult it can be for animal owners.
“The private nature of grief for pets can make it doubly difficult for some pet owners to cope with their emotional distress,” explains Pete. “People can be deeply upset after losing a pet, experiencing heightened sensitivity and rawness of emotions. It’s a difficult time, deserving all the support that people around them can muster.” And although it can be very upsetting for everyone involved, grief is also a necessary part of saying goodbye. Holding a little funeral or keeping a memento also helps when it comes to grieving. Our local veterinary clinic gave us a gift of Max’s paw print cast in plaster when he passed away under their care, and it’s one we’ll forever treasure. Items like this and little ceremonies might feel tough at the time but they truly do help the difficult process of moving on.
If your grief becomes complex or prolonged, you might find that speaking to a counsellor in person will help or talk to your GP about finding a suitable counsellor for you in your own area.
Some helpful resources
Irish Hospice Foundation – click here
Solace Pet Loss Ireland – click here